SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Fight and depth. In Saturday’s 3-1 comeback win over the previously unbeaten Vancouver Whitecaps, the San Jose Earthquakes showed that’s the biggest difference between the 2012 and 2011 versions of their squad.
San Jose went down early in the second half after a goal from ‘Caps forward Sébastien Le Toux. While last year’s Quakes might’ve untucked their shirts and put their heads down, that’s not the case this season.
“I thought we were dead and buried at 1-0,” San Jose head coach Frank Yallop told reporters after the game. “I thought it didn’t look good. But I liked our spirit. We didn’t give up, we fought, we came back.”
WATCH: San Jose 3, Vancouver 1
While Chris Wondolowski was responsible for two of the team’s three goals on the night, it was the play from the three substitutes – Tressor Moreno, Alan Gordon (above) and Khari Stephenson – that earned praise from the coach.
“We didn’t play well at all,” said Yallop. “We started the game pretty good for 10 minutes then I think we didn’t move the ball, didn’t look dangerous, kind of looked – I don’t want to say sloppy, but kind of just half pace. But I have to credit the subs that came in the game and made a difference. I think that’s why we mention depth. Those guys can’t wait to play. They were great, all of them.”
Moreno entered the match just 38 minutes in after Marvin Chávez suffered an injury, and served Wondolowski on the forward’s second tally. Stephenson played just the final 22 minutes and helped hold down the midfield. But it was arguably the presence of Gordon that kickstarted San Jose’s turnaround.
With usual starter Steven Lenhart out due to injury, Yallop opted for a Wondolowski-Simon Dawkins pairing up top. While Dawkins ended up shifting out to the flank when Moreno came on, the Quakes offense still didn’t have its usual rugged punch.
Yallop called on Gordon, and the big forward answered. Replacing Dawkins in the 52nd minute, Gordon took his spot at the helm of the attack, sliding Wondolowski to his more familiar role as second striker. And then the offense clicked.
Wondolowski busted through Vancouver’s defense – which hadn’t given up a goal in a season-opening record 427 minutes – not once, but twice. And Gordon added a diving header himself – the winner, no less – for good measure.
“Alan gives us that target forward. It allows me to drop a little bit underneath.,” Wondolowski said. “To be honest, I really did a horrible job playing at target forward in absence of Lenny. … I thought Alan did a great job. He caused a lot of havoc inside the box. He’s such a force to be reckoned with.”
The goal was Gordon’s first this season, and the first since a number of knocks, including a hip adductor injury and subsequent surgery, shut him down last season.
“[Doctors told me] my hip wasn’t right and that it may be career-ending,” Gordon explained in the locker room. “But I believed in myself and I had some great, great therapy and a lot of hard work. And for it to pay off tonight was emotional.”
The win marked the fourth for San Jose in five matches to begin the season, their best opening run since 2003. While it provides a big boost in confidence, Yallop isn’t letting it get to his players’ heads.
“We’re not getting carried away, obviously ‘cause it’s a long season,” he said. “But to get off to a good start, it’s always important in any league, especially ours.
"The guys are feeling confident. They didn’t play like it in the first half, but what I liked about it was that they didn’t really drop their heads and lose 1-0. We came back into it, and then we started to feel good about it and I thought we pushed on and deserved to win in the end.”